A Wild Life

by Harry de Jonge (South Africa)

I didn't expect to find South Africa


I will never forget the hot summer’s night in the game reserve as jeep after jeep sent gravel flying as they pulled out of the lodge parking lot. A gray dusky twilight covered the veld as the sweltering African sun vanished below the horizon. The usual cacophony of nocturnal animals filled the air only to have their concert interrupted by the four-wheel beast we humans used to encroach on their territory. Six of us sat squeezed close together, shining our lights into the dry bushes, revealing the glowing eyes of foxes, small antelope, and perhaps even a big cat or two, but none of these were the reason for our helter-skelter race through the veld. The call had come in over twenty minutes ago. One of the border patrol units had found a hole in the fence and footprints headed in the same direction we had seen the rhinos earlier that day. Every time this news was passed on, it was answered by a single word, spoken as if it were the foulest swearword in any language, “Poachers.” My heart was beating so hard and fast it amazed me no one else could hear it. I wasn’t even supposed to be there. This was not my territory. I was merely visiting my friend, the fuming mountain of muscle driving our jeep, and yet, despite my lack of qualifications, there I was, like a bush-veld batman, racing through the dark in search of justice. But then again, I was not about to sit at the lodge while twiddling my thumbs. I had been along for the ride earlier that day when we had found the rhino that was now in danger. “Almost eighteen months pregnant; she’s about a week or so away from giving birth,” they told me when I had noted her swollen belly. Now, we were racing pell-mell to reach her before the poachers did. Walkie-talkies crackled on and off as muffled voices barked information in one of the eleven local languages I did not understand. Tires skid over the loose stones of the dried riverbed we were using as a shortcut. Shouts and beams of light were all around us in the bushes as the other teams spread out to make sure we missed nothing. Over all these other noises, we still heard the gunshot crack like a thunderbolt in the distance. My heartfelt as if it were breaking. We found her a few kilometers north of the large lake where we had seen her earlier that day. Her head rested in a puddle of blood, spilled from where the poachers had cut off her horn. It was perhaps the most senseless and tragic thing I had ever seen. This poor, gentle-hearted beast, slain in order to steal something from her that would only ever have been of any real use to her. I can still recall that terrible moment as I stood there on the dry red ground; it was the moment I almost lost my faith in humanity. However, it was as I watched my six-foot friend fall to his knees and cried like a baby, that I realized I was paying witness to both the worst and the best in humanity had to offer. While one group of people were willing to slay such a majestic creature, another group came together for the greater good. Men and women of multiple races, ages, and backgrounds cheered and celebrated together as the veterinarian saved the life of the baby rhino. While humans had taken the little rhino’s mother, now, other humans would raise it, protect it, and love it. When I left to visit my friend, I never expected to find an existential truth, but that is exactly what I found that night in as the ocean of stars shone above the shadow covered veld. There is both good and bad in this world, and while the latter can be unbearably sad, the former can be indescribably beautiful. I can only hope that the little rhino will not fall prey to the same evil that had claimed his mother; that more good men and women will do everything they can to protect him.